Democratic activist Lisa McCormick is warning about the dangers of deadly pathogens, such as the flesh-eating bacteria called vibrio vulnificus, or potential outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, such as Nipah virus, Lassa fever, and Ebola.
“We are facing a new reality,” McCormick said in a recent interview. “Deadly pathogens are becoming more common, and our political system is not doing enough to protect us.”
McCormick said scientists are concerned about these diseases for a number of reasons. First, climate change is creating new opportunities for these diseases to spread. Second, globalization is making it easier for people to travel and transport animals, which can also help to spread these diseases. Third, the development of drug resistance is making it more difficult to treat these diseases.
McCormick, who ran for US Senate in New Jersey in 2018, has long been concerned about the threat posed by emerging diseases.
McCormick pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as an example of the dangers of ignoring emerging diseases. She said that politicians were too focused on short-term economic interests and not paying enough attention to the long-term threat of pandemics.
“We need to invest in public health,” McCormick said. “We need to have a plan for responding to emerging diseases. And we need to stop putting profits ahead of people.”
McCormick said there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of outbreaks, such as improving surveillance for zoonotic diseases, developing vaccines and treatments, educating the public about the risks, or reducing contact between humans and animals.
“A growing number of scientists, biosecurity experts, and policymakers are reconsidering the dangers of prospecting for unknown viruses and conducting other high-stakes work with pathogens,” McCormick said.
McCormick’s warnings come as vibrio vulnificus is becoming more common in the United States. The bacteria is found in warm, brackish water, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It can also be found in raw shellfish.
Vibrio vulnificus can cause a severe infection called necrotizing fasciitis, which can lead to tissue death and amputation. The bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and cause sepsis, which can be fatal.
Health officials are urging people to take precautions to avoid infection with Vibrio vulnificus. These include:
- Avoiding swimming in warm, brackish water, especially if you have an open wound.
- Cooking shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
- Avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish.
- Washing your hands with soap and water after swimming or coming into contact with seawater.
If you think you may have been exposed to Vibrio vulnificus, seek medical attention immediately. Early treatment with antibiotics can help prevent serious complications.
McCormick is not the only one warning about the dangers of deadly pathogens. A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the world is facing a “new normal” of emerging diseases. The report said that climate change, globalization, and human behavior are all contributing to the spread of diseases.
“Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spread among animal species by 2070 — and that’s likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study,” said McCormick. “This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly disease spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, Ebola and coronavirus.”
“With people traveling much more frequently and far greater distances than in the past, living in more densely populated areas and coming into closer contact with wild animals, the potential for emerging infectious diseases to spread rapidly and cause global epidemics is a major concern,” said McCormick. “Researchers used a model to conclude that over 3,000 mammal species could migrate and share viruses over the next 50 years as the world warms due to a deadly combination of climate and zoonoses — diseases that can spread from animals to people.”
The WHO report called for a global effort to address the threat of emerging diseases. It said that governments need to invest in public health, improve surveillance systems, and develop new drugs and vaccines.
McCormick said that she is hopeful that the world will take action to address the threat of deadly pathogens. She said that the coronavirus pandemic has shown that we can no longer afford to ignore these threats.
“We need to wake up and smell the coffee,” McCormick said. “Deadly pathogens are a real threat, and we need to take them seriously.”
McCormick said there is cause for concern because world leaders are failing to address existing events that have global repercussions with the urgency they require.
“There is a devastating war in Europe that does not show any signs of de-escalation, while the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be resurging as we see increasing numbers of outbreaks of Mpox, a rare viral disease similar to smallpox, and vaccine-derived poliovirus,” said McCormick.
The global outbreak of Mpox was declared a public health emergency of international concern by WHO in July 2022. The weekly number of reported new cases globally increased by 40.8% in the week ending August 27, with the highest increase reported in the United States of America. There are now about 90,000 cases, compared to only 20,000 a year ago and none the previous year.
Cases due to wild poliovirus have decreased by over 99% since 1988, but scientists are concerned about vaccine-derived poliovirus, which has been detected in 27 countries, including Indonesia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
McCormick expressed concern that politicians are not taking these threats seriously enough because they are more interested in raising money for their campaigns than they are in protecting the public from deadly pathogens.
“We need to elect leaders who will put the health and safety of the people first,” McCormick said. “We can’t afford to wait until it’s too late.”